It’s not my fault

clip_image002Since I’ve spent my entire career plying the waters of computers and related technology, I get tagged with all of its failures. When my wife points to the pile of paper she has to shred because “your technology” helps one vendor share her address with 500 other vendors, it’s my fault. When we get the 50th “offer” from Sirius Radio that reads more like a threat, it’s my fault. When the Mars Climate Orbiter crashed into the planet, some of my friends mocked “my technology.” That wasn’t my technology – that was Jimmy Carter’s – he’s the one who failed to convert the US to the Metric System.

See how that works? Jimmy Carter didn’t fail, in fact he’s the only president who even bothered to try to get us to convert to the Metric System but let’s tag him with the failure the same way we’ll tag the contractors with the implementation failures of the healthcare system. I’d say that I’m surprised someone hasn’t tagged me with that, but someone will. I’ll be sitting at a bar some day and someone will say “nice job on the whole healthcare thing” as if I was in charge of the system.

One of my favorite blogs is one called “itkindofgotawayfromyou“ (Actually, it appears to be called “tangentialmeanderings” but I digress). Anyway, the author of that cool blog recently wrote about how the Los Angeles School District is planning to give all students iPads. I won’t give away the story, just do the click thing and read it for yourself, but keep reading this first – his blog is good, but… I commented on his blog:

Too bad they can’t say “these will pay for themselves because we will be using e-textbooks” but e-textbooks would probably cost more than paper ones and you probably couldn’t use them more than one year or for more than one kid.”

But, that’s not a technology problem is it? No, that’s a greedy book publisher problem. That’s why TechCrunch is predicting that libraries will be obsolete, because it costs so much more to lend an eBook than a real book. It’s the same reason that banks charge you to use a different bank’s ATM. They didn’t charge you extra back when you wrote a check to a merchant in a different city. When someone had to fly that check back to your bank and your bank had to look at it, make some marks on it and then stuff it in an envelope and send it to you – no charge. The “technology” of the ATM network eliminated most of those costs, but that was yesterday’s savings – banks are still greedy today.

The problem with technology, the real problem, is that it changes faster than the world around it. We have eBooks, but we still have book publishers, we still have libraries and we still have people who prefer reading real books – people like me. We have GPS systems and robotics and the technology to let cars drive themselves, but we still have road signs and we still have people driving old cars and we still have people driving British cars that, if you plugged a GPS into the cigarette lighter socket would probably catch on fire.

In theory, driverless cars would be safer. They would be programmed to obey the speed limit, to pass safely, to talk to the car in front of them so they would know when and how hard to apply the brakes. We wouldn’t have to deal with human reaction time and turn signals and people who don’t use turn signals and gestures and people who don’t use gestures. So insurance rates would go down, right? My guess is that no, they would not. I’m guessing that insurance companies would charge more to insure a driverless car because there would be a whole new world of possible problems for which no actuaries can conjure up a prediction. What if the guy who used to work for NASA enters the distance from Hartford, CT to Boston, MA as 162.38 miles instead of 100.9 miles and it causes navigation or speed control problems?

The other big problem with technology is that people don’t understand it. I don’t mean that they don’t understand it like I no longer understand how my car’s engine works, they don’t understand it like they don’t understand String Theory or the notion that time may not exist. When people don’t understand things like String Theory, it’s fine because Best Buy doesn’t sell String Theory. Best Buy sells iPads. Everybody sells iPads and everybody wants an iPad whether they understand it or not. Well, my wife doesn’t want an iPad, but that’s a different story. Why is the LA School district buying iPads? What will the $670 iPads do that a $150 Android device or a $499 dollar Surface or a 99-cent Surface RT (wait a while) wouldn’t do just as well? One thing that was mentioned was test-taking. Hmm, taking what I assume are standardized tests on an iPad; that should really lower the costs paid to the testing service shouldn’t it? Do you think that eTests will be cheaper than the paper-and-two-number2-pencils-required versions? Of course not, the companies that produce standardized tests are every bit as greedy as book publishers and banks so eTests will be way more expensive.

Yet another problem with technology is the combined effect of technology changing rapidly and people always wanting the latest version of stuff they never thought they would have 5 years ago. That’s a future blog post. You’ve been warned.


  1. Picture – That’s a picture of my GPS. I paid extra to get the model that receives traffic information as I travel. In this picture, the GPS is telling me that I can expect a 1-minute delay actually, I seem to recall being about 45 minutes late.


  2. Great post Dan!

    This speaks volumes to the success of many innovation efforts.

    Edisson by the accounts of The Oatmeal was an amateur compared to Tesla, but connections and change management put him in the limelight as the great inventor. Well, perhaps not totally. But if you think about the charismatic startups of today there’s a great blog, a great story and a great leader sharing an ideal rather than a product. So often innovation and it’s adoption is left uneducated, to the detriment of its success.

    I read that after an early car ran over someone – the solution was to make someone walk in front to regulate the speed, as would someone safely walking a horse. Germany seems to be the only nation to understand what’s really needed to adopt cars as a mode of transport.

    TESLA cars are facing the same struggle. Too far tool soon from existing paradigms.

    Roll out road maps and adoption paths seem critical. Maybe marketers are needed…

    I’m not even going to get started with the uphill struggle of getting companies to use Social Media correctly…


    1. Thanks for keeping up with this blog Nick and thanks for the thought-provoking comment. There might be another post in there :) So, will businesses figure Social Media out or will they drag it down to some common denominator along with every other business tool? I read a lot of the stuff you post, and it seems we should be able to figure it out, but I have my doubts.



      1. It’s a pleasure Dan. Your mixture of thought provoking, storytelling and engaging posts are of the few I always read. Every one.

        I’m hoping for our plans that we can buck the trend with Social Media.
        Business wide, not just for marketing!

        As you’ve seen it is just like every other business tool, manipulated and used like existing tools (that’s easier than changing your goals and changing your KPIs right).

        Social vs traditional in my mind is:
        shotgun vs. rifle, sledgehammer instead of counterweighted scalpel – you know the analogies.

        I only hoping that I can teach / coach / coerce others to use it right and really reap the benefits.


  3. Oh you could have gone on – the things about technology. More on how we don’t understand it and yet crave the new version when we never fully used the old one… How about how people don’t understand it and then you have minimum viable products (can you say…)

    Thanks for letting me know who is responsible… Good of you to put a face on it


    1. Thanks for reading Beth Anne. I think I will have to revisit this, perhaps when I buy my next digital camera or install the next version of Microsoft Word (the least understood most-used product ever IMO)


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